The summer brings travelling family circuses—like Le Cirque de Provence, which has been performing here for 26 years. Plus, film subsidies and Fadéla Amara's plan for the banlieuesby Tim King / August 31, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
The travelling family circus
In the summer, culture comes to rural France. Amateur choirs who have practised through the dark winter burst forth with their requiems and masses in ancient abbeys. There are concerts in the music rooms of private chateaux, perfect for the brilliance of Mozart arias, the brooding melancholy of Chopin or, more eclectically, Perrault’s fairy tales, with lute accompaniment. The room will be packed—urbane financiers from Paris, relaxing with their families, next to the local dentist or even a sheep farmer fresh from milking, massive hands on massive thighs. Above us, on the decorated ceiling, faded alchemical symbols remind us of man’s eternal quest to transform our base materials into something perfect.
If that’s too arcane, there is the travelling family circus. This Tuesday, for one night only, Le Cirque de Provence: Marc and Lydia Cornero, their children Laura and Christophe, and Christophe’s wife and tiny child. That’s it. One of perhaps 150 family circuses touring southern France, the Corneros have been coming to my village for 26 years, and Madame’s grandfather came long before that.
When I first became a fan, 12 years ago, there were three daughters, but two have since married and transferred to their husbands’ circuses. Now the show hangs on Christophe and Laura. Christophe is one of the best jugglers I’ve seen and he’s an even better clown. Laura, 19, is an acrobatic tightrope walker—bright and charming with the steely sexiness essential for that under-dressed job. By day she drives the big truck which hauls two enormous trailer-caravans.
I once saw them perform in a bicycle shed, lit by a single lightbulb, the roof sloping from nine feet off the ground on one side to six on the other. Christophe, forced to throw his whirling skittles lower than usual, juggled at double speed. High-wire acts were impossible: Laura did her act on a table, her sister Aurélie, who usually hung by her feet from a pole high above us, worked with her scalp scraping the ground.
When I saw them perform the other day, there were 35 people in the audience. To support performances in these tiny venues, I imagined Le Cirque de Provence must depend on subsidies, but Madame Cornero tells me that all their funding comes from box office takings.
France’s film subsidies
Even in France profonde, cinemas will screen some low-budget film from Iran or Mike Leigh alongside the latest blockbuster. This is because they can access “Art et Essai”—a wonderfully French system of indirect government subsidy.
After its release, a film typically has a shelf life of about eight weeks before the public forgets about it. This is no problem for a blockbuster with the funding to produce 800 copies of the film, but a low-budget picture will rarely manage 100—not enough to reach beyond the cities. The agency behind Art et Essai provides free copies of films to small towns and villages, where 75 per cent of France’s cinemas are situated. The audiences may not be big, but “if I can show Sean Penn’s Into the Wild or the Israeli Waltz with Bashir to 100 people I’m achieving something,” says the manager of my local cinema.
But the programme’s funding was cut in 2000, and is set to be cut again this year. There will be possibly 200 fewer copies of each film next year—this means 1,600 cinemas affected and perhaps 150,000 people deprived of good films. And €500,000 less for the distributors of those films, which receive half of all cinema takings.
The plan for the banlieues
When he arrived in power, much fuss was made of President Sarkozy’s new government: six former Socialists and three representatives of ethnic minorities. None has had an easy year. All are held in some disdain by Sarkozy’s people and the Socialists have repudiated their former colleagues. Some have since realised their role is symbolic: Rama Yade, secretary of state for human rights, has found she cannot criticise countries where Sarkozy wishes to do business.
The situation of the urban minister, Fadéla Amara, is typical. She is the latest in a long line of ministers told to sort out the underprivileged of the banlieues, Sarkozy’s notorious “scum.” Brought up in that milieu herself, Amara has been known to use their language in the velvet corridors of power. Like minister of justice Rachida Dati, who shares her background, she has had “communication problems” with some of her énarque advisors. She is famously not on speaking terms with her immediate boss, the minister for housing. “Tough shit,” she might say—she has the ear of the president, who liked her plan des banlieues so much he called it his “Marshall plan.”
The plan, made by someone who has lived the problems, is a good one: trams to places where there are jobs; guidance through the employment minefield in return for commitment to accept work. “It’ll cost over €1bn in all,” Amara says, optimistically. That’s the rub: the money has to come from different ministries, and tough though she is, Amara lacks the clout to force her plan through. Fresh ideas are all very well, but, as Sarkozy recently admitted, “the coffers are empty.”